Meet the Chartered Manager: The scientist

14 October 2016 -


Surbjit Kaur’s journey to being a management consultant did not follow the usual path. Find out how Chartered Manager status helped her make the shift from scientist to manager

Matt Scott

The technical expertise and rigour needed to thrive as a scientist provided an unusual foundation for Surbjit Kaur’s successful management career. Kaur is not your typical manager.

She started her career as a research scientist at Imperial College London, where she completed a PhD in environmental epidemiology.

Early in her studies, Kaur demonstrated a natural ability to work across multi-disciplinary teams. Imperial College London headhunted the young scientist to manage a consortium project of six universities investigating the way pollutants travel across cities and impact human life.

It was her first foray into management and forced her to think differently about the way she carried out her work.

“As I started in that role, I found that it’s all great to have the technical knowhow, but then you start having questions about budget management, how you manage teams located in six locations, how you achieve your objectives to show you have a return on investment… at that point I did not feel that, as a researcher, I was fully prepared to meet the challenges of the role I found myself in.”

Alongside completing her PhD, Kaur was sent on a training programme to develop her management skills and help her in this new role: “The focus was always on research, but my supervisor at the time said, ‘[Management] is something you really enjoy and it’s something we don’t have a lot of skills in’, so they nominated me to do CMI’s Level 5 Diploma in Management.

“That gave me a lot more confidence in terms of the things I was doing and the tools I had heard of but never fully grasped.”

But this new-found experience and knowhow presented Kaur with a dilemma: should she carry on as a scientist, or branch out into a new career in management consultancy? After taking a career break to do some volunteer work, she made her decision.

Today, she works as a senior management consultant for EY, empowered by her CMI diploma, Chartered Manager status and, more recently, her Fellowship with CMI.

“When I started out, because of my science background, I was always questioning if I was doing things the right way,” she says. “The diploma and the Chartered Manager status gave me the confidence to be able to make that shift from a totally scientific background to the management and leadership role that I play now.”

“When I moved over, I found that I’d developed a lot of transferable skills, which I underpinned with the CMI qualification,” she adds.

Kaur’s Chartered Manager status has also contributed towards her winning the 30% Club and Henley Business School Women in Leadership Scholarship for an Executive MBA.

She is due to complete her MBA later this year, and credits her success in winning the scholarship to her real-life experience of management recognised by her CMI accreditation.

“With the work that I do, there is nothing to say you are qualified to do that,” she says, “but, from an industrial and practical application perspective, Chartered Manager status gives you that endorsement because of its experience-based approach [to accreditation].

“People can collect qualifications but it doesn’t mean they can do [the job]. The great thing about Chartered Manager status is that it proves you’ve been there and done it rather than having just done the theory.”

Find out more about Kaur’s journey, and other Chartered Manager success stories, as well as how you can #GetChartered

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